Trade Deficit Narrows: Was this Good News?

Trade defict falls to $46 billion in February, but could reflect weaker economy.

February exports of $181.2 billion and imports of $227.2 billion resulted in a U.S. trade deficit of $46 billion, down from $52.5 billion in January, the Department of Commerce announced Thursday. Total February exports were $0.2 billion more than January exports of $180.9 billion. February imports were $6.3 billion less than January imports of $233.4 billion.

The trade deficit narrowed in February "for the all the wrong reasons'" according to TD Economics Senior Economist Martin Schwerdtfeger, "a decline in exports ... accompanied by a sharp, broad-based decline in imports."

Schwerdtfeger warned the report "does not bode well for economic growth during the first quarter" and said weak across-the-board imports suggest both consumption and investment are tracking in line with "soft growth rates" of 2% in GDP.

"The overall U.S. trade deficit sank by more than 12% in February, but the improvement seemed to stem on net entirely from seasonal, holiday-related production declines in China, which sharply reduced PRC exports of goods to the American market," said Alan Tonelson, research fellow with the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

In February, the goods deficit decreased $6 billion from January to $61.4 billion, and the services surplus increased $0.5 billion from January to $15.4 billion. However, exports of goods decreased
$0.6 billion to $128 billion, and imports of goods decreased $6.5 billion to $189.4 billion.

The goods and services deficit increased $0.6 billion from February 2011 to February 2012. Exports were up $15.4 billion, or 9.3%, and imports were up $16.1 billion, or 7.6%.

Goods

Among the goods categories where exports declined from January to February were:

  • Automotive vehicles,parts, and engines ($0.8 billion);
  • Foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.5 billion); and
  • Industrial supplies and materials ($0.1 billion).

Increases occurred in other goods ($0.5 billion) and consumer goods ($0.3 billion), the Commerce Department reported. Capital goods were virtually unchanged.

Goods exports increased from February 2011 to February 2012 for:

  • Capital goods ($4.3 billion);
  • Industrial supplies and materials ($3.3 billion);
  • Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($2.0 billion);
  • Other goods ($0.9 billion); and
  • Consumer goods ($0.9 billion).

Advanced technology products exports were $23.3 billion in February and imports were $29.2 billion, resulting in a deficit of $5.8 billion. February exports were $0.9 billion more than the $22.5
billion in January, while February imports were virtually unchanged from January.

Imports dropped from January to February for:

  • Consumer goods ($2.7 billion);
  • Industrial supplies and materials ($1.5 billion);
  • Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines ($1.0 billion);
  • Foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.6 billion); and
  • Capital goods ($0.4 billion).

The February 2011 to February 2012 increase in imports of goods reflected increases in industrial supplies and materials ($5.9 billion); capital goods ($4.6 billion); automotive vehicles, parts,
and engines ($4.0 billion); other goods ($1.1 billion); and foods, feeds, and beverages ($0.4 billion). A decrease occurred in consumer goods ($3.3 billion).

Services

Exports of services increased $0.8 billion from January to February. The increase was mostly accounted for by increases in travel, other private services (which includes items such as
business, professional, and technical services, insurance services, and financial services), and royalties and license fees. Changes in the other categories of services exports were small.

For the three months ending in February, exports of goods and services averaged $180.1 billion, while imports of goods and services averaged $229.8 billion, resulting in an average trade deficit of $49.7 billion. For the three months ending in January, the average trade deficit was $50.2 billion, reflecting average exports of $178.9 billion and average imports of $229.1 billion.

TAGS: The Economy
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